Commons, Cognition, and Climate Change

37 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2017

See all articles by Carol M. Rose

Carol M. Rose

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: October 17, 2017


Coping with climate disruption is often characterized as a commons or collective action problem. In this essay I argue that certain major cognitive blockages are inherent in the structure of commons or collective problems—especially such large scale collective problems as climate disruption. The essay identifies those baked-in cognitive impediments as distrust, ignorance, and insouciance, and it describes how they emerge from the structure of collective action. The essay then discusses some potential antidotes to collective action cognitive blockages, including motivated belief, commitment, and what I call interestingness and fun. Since these antidotes would appear to be rather weak in the face of a collective action problem so vast as climate disruption, the essay turns to types of action that potentially reduce the collective character of climate issues; here I discuss adaptation, geoengineering, and market measures. The essay concludes that market measures would appear to be the most promising, insofar as they can turn climate-related collective action into decision-making based on small-group or individual interest.

Keywords: climate change, collective action, tragedy of the commons, cognitive psychology, climate adaptation, geoengineering, environmental market measures

Suggested Citation

Rose, Carol Marguerite, Commons, Cognition, and Climate Change (October 17, 2017). 32 Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law 297 (2017), Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 17-26, Available at SSRN:

Carol Marguerite Rose (Contact Author)

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States
520-621-5544 (Phone)
520-621-9140 (Fax)

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